Medicinal Uses and Indications
Based on studies conducted in laboratories, animals, and people, ginkgo is used for the following:
Dementia and Alzheimer's disease
Ginkgo is widely used in Europe for treating dementia. At first, doctors thought it helped because it improves blood flow to the brain. Now more study suggests it may protect nerve cells that are damaged in Alzheimer's disease. A number of studies have found that ginkgo has a positive effect on memory and thinking in people with Alzheimer's or vascular dementia.
Studies suggest that ginkgo may help people with Alzheimer's disease:
- Improve thinking, learning, and memory (cognitive function)
- Have an easier time doing day to day activities
- Improve social behavior
- Have fewer feelings of depression
Several studies have found that ginkgo may work as well as some prescription Alzheimer's medications to delay the symptoms of dementia. It has not been tested against all of the drugs prescribed to treat Alzheimer's.
However, one of the longest and best-designed studies found ginkgo was no better than placebo in reducing Alzheimer's symptoms. In a 2008 study, 176 people in the United Kingdom with Alzheimer's took either ginkgo or placebo for 6 months. At the end of the study there was no difference in mental function or quality of life between the groups.
Ginkgo is sometimes suggested to prevent Alzheimer's and dementia, as well, and some studies have suggested it might help. But in 2008, a well-designed study (the GEM study) with more than 3,000 elderly people found that ginkgo was no better than placebo in preventing dementia or Alzheimer's.
Because ginkgo improves blood flow, it has been studied in people with intermittent claudication, or pain caused by reduced blood flow to the legs. People with intermittent claudication have a hard time walking without feeling extreme pain. An analysis of eight studies showed that people taking ginkgo tended to walk about 34 meters farther than those taking placebo. In fact, ginkgo has been shown to work as well as a prescription medication in improving pain-free walking distance. However, regular walking exercises work better than ginkgo in improving walking distance.
One preliminary study found that a special formulation of ginkgo extract called EGB 761 might help relieve anxiety. People with generalized anxiety disorder and adjustment disorder who took this specific extract had fewer anxiety symptoms than those who took placebo.
One small study found that people with glaucoma who took 120 mg of ginkgo daily for 8 weeks had improvements in their vision.
Memory and Thinking
Ginkgo is widely touted as a "brain herb." Some studies show that it does help improve memory in people with dementia. It's not as clear whether ginkgo helps memory in healthy people who have normal, age-related memory loss. Some studies have found slight benefits, while other studies have found it didn't help at all. Some studies have found that ginkgo helps improve memory and thinking in young and middle-aged people who are healthy. The dose that works best seems to be 240 mg per day. There's no proof that taking ginkgo will help protect against dementia. Ginkgo is often added to nutrition bars, soft drinks, and fruit smoothies to boost memory and enhance mental performance, although such small amounts probably don't help.
The flavonoids found in ginkgo may help stop or reduce some problems with the retina, the back part of the eye. Macular degeneration, often called age-related macular degeneration or AMD, is an eye disease that affects the retina. The number one cause of blindness in the Unites States, AMD is a degenerative eye disease that gets worse as time goes on. Some studies suggest that ginkgo may help preserve vision in those with AMD.
Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS)
Two studies with a somewhat complicated dosing schedule found that ginkgo helped reduced PMS symptoms. Women in the studies took a special extract of ginkgo beginning on day 16 of their menstrual cycle and stopped taking it after day 5 of their next cycle, then took it again on day 16.
One well-designed study found that people with Raynaud's phenomenon who took ginkgo over a 10-week period had fewer symptoms than those who took placebo. More studies are needed.
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